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Kerri McLean

My debt to the teacher who helped me conquer shyness to become a confident public speaker and follow dream career

Kerry McLean


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Ian Wright (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Ian Wright (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Ian Wright (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Did you hear Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 this week? If so, were you reduced to floods of tears listening to former professional footballer, now commentator, Ian Wright talking about his life? I certainly was.

It wasn't a programme I thought I'd find myself engrossed in as I had assumed it would be packed with details of his sporting exploits and the mere thought of discussing sport, any sport, brings me out in hives. I've had many people try to explain the attraction of running after, kicking or hitting various shaped balls with sticks and clubs but I'm afraid I'm still sports-intolerant.

Our television is hijacked every Saturday night for my husband and son to watch Match of the Day and I can honestly say that if I catch one more pundit talk about giving it 110% or using the words, '…at the end of the day' I might just be tempted to hoof the TV out the window.

Which is why, when I heard the programme's host, Lauren Laverne describe in her dulcet Tyne and Wear tones who her guest was going to be I almost turned over to a different station.

I confess, that's what I did when other sporting stars stepped up to the mic, people like David Beckham, Gary Lineker and Tony Adams, who all left me wishing that they had indeed sailed off to a deserted island but one without a microphone.

It's not that they weren't fascinating guests for hundreds of thousands of listeners, it's just that their football to non-football anecdote ratio was all wrong for someone like me.

How glad I am that I paused before hitting the button this time though, for what Ian shared about his life was truly moving. I'd challenge even a stone not to shed a tear or two as he laid out the details of his very tough upbringing. His father was mostly absent, his step-father was very abusive to his mother and the only one who looked out for him at home was his big brother, older by three years, Maurice.

He described how the two boys would huddle together while his mother was enduring domestic abuse, his big brother's hands firmly clamped over his ears to stop a young Ian hearing the disturbing noises.

Truly heartbreaking stuff.

But the aspect of his story that left me in a teary heap was hearing him talk about the man who changed his life around, his primary school teacher Mr Pigden.

This wonderful man had noticed that young Ian was frequently getting sent out of his classroom for misbehaviour and decided that instead of punishing him, he would take him under his wing. He made him milk monitor, had him collect the registers from the classrooms and run errands between teachers.

While these roles may not seem like much to many of us, to Ian as a child it was, he said, the first time that he realised someone saw him as having any worth. For the first time he knew what it was to have an adult in his corner.

He was taught to have pride in himself and his achievements and that his dreams of becoming a professional footballer could come true if he practised and had self-discipline.

Was there ever better evidence of how important it is for children to have care and support given to them during their school days?

I was lucky enough to have had a teacher like that, one who left a long-lasting and oh so positive effect on my life.

Mr Alcorn was my English teacher and spotted that while I was not the most academically gifted child, I did have a real enjoyment of reading.

He encouraged me to expand my book choices, he helped to develop my love of drama and encouraged me to overcome my natural shyness and become confident when it came to public speaking. He helped to give me the building blocks that allowed me to follow the career of my choice and he taught me that no matter what your worries, you can always escape into literature and find a happy place.

I wish every child had their very own Mr Pigden or Mr Alcorn.

Belfast Telegraph